"An American Revolution" The 2015 Breakneck Point Marathon by Ben Nephew
It is hard to know where to start with this one; it was such an outstanding event in so many ways. I’ll start by thanking my mother-in-law, Alice, who watched Gavin and Aiden so that both Steph and I could race, which is a rare treat. This is the second time Steph and I have been on the Breakneck trails, and it was great to be able to share the experience. You can’t really comprehend the Breakneck terrain without running it, but Joe Azze does a pretty good job with his pics and videos! Additional thanks to Ian Golden and his team at Red Newt Racing for making the race happen, and to Joe & Elizabeth Azze for creating an incredible team. If you didn’t race the Breakneck Point Trail Marathon or 25k this year, you definitely missed out and should sign up right now for next year!
My own background to this race was that my year of running did not have a great start. I was dropped from the inov-8 team after 11 years, and I was not selected to the US team for the International Association of Ultrarunning Trail Championship after being on teams for the 2009, 2011, and 2013 championships. With David Riddle and Brian Rusiecki in 2013, we just missed a bronze medal in the team competition. I am not going to lie, I am not happy about not being selected. I was more surprised that one of my MPF RNR teammates, Iain Ridgeway, was not selected to the UK team after his incredible 4th place run at the 2013 race in Wales, helping the UK team win the team gold and just missing an individual bronze. Iain ran under 6 hours for just under 50 miles on course with 9-10k of climb on a hot day; it was an impressive performance. Fortunately, Iain was recently added to the UK team when an initial member backed out.
In addition to Iain racing at Breakneck, we had Denis Mikhaylove, who beat me two years ago at Escarpment and is one of few runners to break 3 hours on that course, Ryan Welts, former owner of several FKT’s in NH, and Carlo “the Jackal” Agostinetto, who just ran a 1:13 at the NYC half marathon. While Ryan had not gotten in much running due to all the snow up north, I knew he would be tough on the climbs, and the course is mostly one big climb after another. For the race report itself, I’ll provide some data snapshots (distance on the course, time, grade, and instantaneous pace) from my Garmin file.
At 5.0 miles
After a steady start to the climbing, Jim Mollosky moved to the front and began to pull away. I let him go, and suddenly he appeared to get completely out of sight. Either he had made a tremendous move, or missed a turn. He had missed a turn, and came storming back to pass Denis and I. After cresting Breakneck Ridge, Denis decided to push the pace on the downhill to Sugarloaf Mountain. I kept him in sight, and the pack closed back up as we made the short and steep climb to the summit of Sugarloaf. Denis was again aggressive on the downhill, and I backed off the pace while still staying in contact. We made good time on the smooth trails down to route 9D, which we reached at about 47 minutes.
Although I was confident in my climbing, I did not want to push the rock climb up the Breakneck Ridge trail too hard with more than 20 miles of racing ahead of us. I also wanted to enjoy the views and the trail itself. Both were incredible; at times you felt as if you were running in a photograph. All the guys seemed to be handling the pace without too much effort, and I realized then that it was likely to be a hard day of racing for all of us. The climb is so spectacular that I wished we had more time on it; we were soon bombing down the technical trail to the second aid station.
It was fun and strange to be bounding down an extremely rocky and steep descent with guys to my left, right, and right on top of me. It was especially strange that one of those guys was Ian Golden the RD, who was asking about course markings, mileage on our GPS, etc. All you could hear was a waterfall of footsteps and rocks bouncing down the trail.
The section leading down to the Bull Hill climb is basically a huge driveway that made 6:00 min. pace feel very easy. Denis pulled away at first, but the rest of the pack kept him within about 100 meters, and we regrouped on the long climb. This is where my stomach started to bother me, making it difficult to climb with any sort of strength. I had been fighting the stomach bug that Aiden had gotten, and thought I was over it. I definitely did not feel right, a general weakness, towards the top of the climb. Iain and Ryan looked great, and they moved up to chase Denis as I took some salt to see if that might help. The views at the top of climb were once again incredible, and were a welcome distraction.
Things started to spread out as we returned to Aid Station 3. In addition to not having any power on the uphills, my coordination was off on the downhills. There was a bit of a rush out of the aid station which led to some separation, but confusion about the markings allowed Carlo and I to catch back up. Luckily, the salt seemed to be helping, and I was climbing better on the climb back up Breakneck Ridge. At this point in the race, almost everyone except Carlo had been leading at some point. We made good time over the technical singletrack of the ridge, and I wondered if it was too good given what we had to face in the last 11 miles.
After the steep climb to Sunset Point and the following descent, we had a runnable 3 mile downhill to the finish of the 25k and the start of our last 20k. I still didn’t feel right, and it was work just to stay in contact with the rest of the pack. Iain and Ryan led the charge down, looking strong and relaxed. We all got the aid station around the same time, but Carlo was first to leave and immediately opened a sizable lead. Everyone else took off after him, and I thought to myself that it could be too soon to be racing with the two biggest climbs left on a day that was getting hotter by the second. The exposed climbs felt like an oven. My climbing felt so slow I was afraid to look and see how much ground I was losing. I seriously considered turning around and dropping out. To my surprise, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, although Iain was clearly pulling away after passing Carlo.
That climb up to South Beacon sucked the life out of all of us; it was long, hot and increasingly steep. It was clear to anyone that we were hurting. I felt relatively better as the climb went on, relatively being the keyword. The following section on the Fishkill Ridge was tight and technical, which suited my strengths and I slowly reeled in Carlo on a short climb just before the descent to dozer junction. This part of the course was all new to me, and all the undulations and surprise viewpoints made for an amazing ride. I spotted Iain for the first time in a while and was able to catch up on the downhill.
Iain was holding a solid pace, and I did not feel the need to try and pass at all. The downhill soon turned into an accelerating tempo run, and I was just happy to be able to hang on and enjoy the trail after my earlier struggles. I could say it was one of the most technical downhills of the race, but really, there were so many difficult downhills on the course. As this section of the park does not see as much traffic, it was more Catskill-like tight than the other downhills.
As the trail opened up towards the bottom, we went from pounding our legs from dropping off boulders to pounding them on steep runnable trail. The two small uphills on the way down to the last aid station were a sick joke and elicited a few insults from both of us. Once we refilled at the final aid station and grabbed some ice, things got ugly pretty quick. It was historically fitting that the two of us, one American and one Brit, were battling up the slopes of Mount Beacon, as the summit was the site of key signal fires during the American Revolution.
We started up the long grind back to the summit of Beacon together, and I started to pull away as I was able to run more sections. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but my quads did not agree by about halfway up. Both quads started to cramp with every step. I took another two S caps and backed off, allowing the Redcoat to catch up. The cramps were still severe, and I realized that I might not be able to wait for those S-caps to digest. I put a third S cap in my mouth, and bit that one open and chased it down with some Coke. Iain took the lead up the final pitch to the summit, but then overshot a turn.
led down the steep summit trail, which was intensely difficult and painful given how spent our legs were. We were full-out racing from this point to the finish, no more than a few steps apart. There was one point where I thought Iain had cramped because I suddenly couldn’t hear him, but he was right back on my heels 30 seconds later.
Race time 5:00:50
"There is no way I can maintain this pace, he is going to pass me at any second."
"I think I’m going to fall down."
"Another uphill? I’m going to pass out and fall down, or fall down and pass out."
"Here we go, this is going to hurt real bad. I hope I don’t hit a tree through the woods. Don’t fail me now, Orocs."
"Here he comes with his long legs, I’m dead. That 25k runner really needs to move to the side, now."
"My legs are going to rip off. Where is the actual finish line? I’m not going to make it. Make the bad man stop."
10,000 feet of climbing!
Thank God that's over!
That was the hardest finish I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve had many close races over the years. Even without the video clips, that one is burned into my memory like some sort of traumatic stress. I am excited for Iain, and hope he has another strong race in France at the IAU race. Both Carlo and Ryan ran tough over the final miles to finish in 5:18 and 5:24 which made for an impressive team performance, especially given the difficulty of the course, the heat, and the fact that it was so early in the season. Breakneck was easily the hardest trail marathon, or we could refer to it as a 50k, that I’ve ever run, and more difficult than most of my 50 milers. It was great hanging out after the race with Steph, the rest of the finishers, and my MPF RNR teammates; it is something I don’t do very often. As others have said, the Breakneck Point Trail Races are instant classics, and I’m looking forward the rest of the racing season with my MPF RNR Teammates! Thanks to Run on The Hudson Valley for the great shoes, clothing & gear!